ShakeAlert is an earthquake early warning system that is being developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) along with researchers at the University of California, Berkley. This app will be used to provide early warning of up to 80 seconds before the earthquake strikes on the west coast.
Unlike other disasters like hurricanes where you get ample warning before it strikes, earthquakes often strike without warning and can cause tremendous damage to cities like those mentioned in my 5 Deadly Earthquakes post. Every second is vital so even if we can get 80 seconds of warning that gives us enough time to seek cover and get away from hazardous things like windows where shards of glass may come flying at you.
How ShakeAlert Works
Earthquakes send out primary waves (P-Waves) which travel faster than the more intense and dangerous secondary waves (P-Waves). Because of this characteristic, a network of seismographs can quickly identify where the earthquake is and its intensity. If it is intense enough, ShakeAlert will send an alert to users and allow them to seek shelter.before the quake hits.
Currently it’s being tested with a select few users and once they officially launch they hope to partner with private firms and social media companies so their system can be integrated to third party apps and websites. You can see how useful this would be and wondered why it hasn’t been used before.
Believe it or not, the technology already exists in some countries like Japan and Mexico. They experience earthquakes on a regular basis so they’ve already implemented early warning systems that are much more advanced than those in the US.
Japan’s Early Warning System
In fact, Japan’s early warning system detects earthquakes up to 90 seconds before they strike and displays alerts on TV’s and sends text messages to smartphones. Back in 2011 when the devastating 9.0 earthquake hit Japan and created a massive tsunami, residents had 80 seconds of early warning before the earthquake struck That gave residents enough time to find shelter and turn off gas lines to minimize hazards.
Mexico’s Early Warning System
Mexico has had an earthquake early warning system in place for awhile now and they launched their SkyAlert app that sends warnings to smartphones before the earthquake strikes. The app has well over three million users already and is something the US is trying to adopt with their own ShakeAlert app.
The above video shows just how early the early warning systems go off to give time for people to take cover. This news anchor, however, didn’t take cover immediately as he continued telling the news but can be seen as confused as to what he should actually do. Continue with the news or take cover. You should definitely take cover to keep yourself safe and injury free.
The Price of Protection
This is all great but did you ever wonder about how much it would cost to implement? I mean you’d need a lot of infrastructure in place to cover such a vast area. In fact, it’s estimated that operating such a system across western US would cost about $16 million a year in operating costs alone. This doesn’t include to cost of adding new detection sites that would be needed to expand the current coverage.This number may seem like a lot but if you compare it to the millions of dollars of damage and lives lost during major earthquakes, it’s a small price to pay.
It’s obvious that we need a system like this in place but the question isn’t only about raising the money but as they move forward, who will pay the bill? MyShake intends on using smartphones as mini seismographs similarly to the MyShake app.
Jennifer Strauss, from UC Berkeley Seismology Lab states:
“MyShake is a great opportunity to harness the availability of accelerometers in every cellphone to build a global network that can bring earthquake science into the next century.”
Technology is indeed advancing and we should definitely take advantage of what’s available to us. ShakeAlert is currently in the testing phase but if all goes well it should be available for download in the near future.
Although apps can help us, it is still very important for us to be prepared and know what to do during an earthquake. There are steps we can do right now to minimize the impact of earthquakes and there are things we should do during an earthquake to minimize injury. Learn more below.